by Marilu Mann
Joie wondered where all the oxygen had gone. Swallowing hard, she tried to get her lungs to cooperate with her, but they wouldn’t. The most attractive, yet scary, man she’d ever seen got out of Tante` Kay’s car. He stood shirtless, wearing jeans that hugged his hips and thighs like nothing she’d ever witnessed before. He leaned casually against the car.
He was very tall and built like a professional wrestler with broad shoulders, a definite six-pack abdomen, slim waist and hips and amazingly long legs.
Staring enviously at the straight hair flowing over his shoulders to the midpoint of his chest in a glorious fall of cinnamon, she barely registered the mustache and goatee. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes. He pulled his hair into a loose ponytail as she continued watching him.
She noticed the tattoo then, a Celtic knot pattern around his left biceps. Her heart flipped when he moved, but he just turned to pick up his backpack. He had another tattoo on his upper shoulder of a bleeding heart with a wolf feeding on it. Another wolf howled from the small of his back just above the waistband of his jeans.
There was some type of mark on his left hand as well. It looked like a brand one would see on a horse or cow. There were also a few scars on his chest and arms, just faint white lines really, but the golden color of his skin brought them out.
“Joie! You listening, child? Joie?” Tante` Kay snapped her fingers in front of Joie’s face.
“Sorry, Tante`! I lost track. What did you say?” Joie brought her attention back to her godmother.
Then the words broke through. “Wait a minute!” Joie put her hand on Tante` Kay’s arm. “You were attacked?”
“Just some foolish boys tryin’ to steal my bag. He took care of them.” As Kay spoke, she jerked her head toward the man standing there. “Get him inside, child. He’s bleedin’.”
Joie gasped as she noticed the shallow cut on his arm. Moving across the front yard, she reached out to touch his hand, letting go of him in a hurry as he removed his glasses. Looking into his eyes gave her a jolt, kind of like being shocked by a live wire.
The look in his light brown eyes told her he’d felt something too. Lord above, the man has beautiful eyes. They reminded her of something but she had no idea what.
“Please come inside. I’m Joie, Joie Sue Landry.”
Goosebumps broke out on her skin in response to his sexy rumble. Joie ran her hands up and down her arms as she led the way into the kitchen. He followed, just close enough to make her tremble. He was very tall. She’d always felt somewhat vertically challenged, but she imagined the crick in her neck she would get from trying to look up at him for long.
“Please sit down. I’ll get something to take care of your arm. Thank you for saving Tante` Kay.”
“No problem.” He sat down at the kitchen table, his long legs sprawling under it.
“Tante`, are you sure you’re okay? I’m going to put a pot on for some tea. Do you need a sandwich?” Joie fussed over her godmother for a moment, then looked at their guest again.
He hadn’t moved since sitting down. Slouching in the chair with his injured arm propped on the table, he smiled at her. Her heart exchanged spots with her stomach, then skipped back in place. He has such a sexy curve to his lips.
“I can stitch it up or just put a butterfly bandage on it.” Focus, Joie, focus on what you need to do. And for heaven’s sake, remember that drooling on the patient only spreads germs.
“The bandage will work.”
She wondered if a spell could be cast just with a voice. At the sound of his voice, her limbs felt like she’d been floating out on the bayou soaking up the sun. And his lap looked just right for curling up in, but a nap didn’t seem to be the first thing on her mind. Then her godmother’s voice cut through the sensual haze his voice seemed to have trapped her in. ‘You’ll stay here for a day or two, boy.”
Joie stared at Tante` Kay. Stay here? Had Tante` lost her mind? She wanted this testosterone factory to be a guest in their tiny cabin? There wasn’t room! But before Joie could speak, she heard him.
“No, it’s not necessary.” Malcolm’s voice rumbled across her again, sexy as all get out. He didn’t have a discernable accent, but he couldn’t be Cajun. Traces of a Southern drawl fell out every now and again, but there were other tones she couldn’t place.
She managed to bandage his arm without touching him too much. She remained completely aware of the heat coming off of him as well as his very masculine scent. Joie remembered he had saved Tante` Kay. It would be unkind and uncharitable to send him out without some rest and food.
“Please,” Joie added her own plea to her godmother’s. “We’d feel better if you stayed at least until we know you don’t have an infection. Besides, you saved Tante`, and deserve some reward.”
Malcolm’s eyes hadn’t left her face since they’d been introduced and now he smiled. She knew he’d seen her reaction when the suggestion for him to stay had been made. Now he had the audacity to look at her like that? The grin crossing his face had to be meant for her and her alone. It let her know in no uncertain terms just what he’d like for his reward.
Joie had seen men look at other women that way. She’d had a few of those looks directed at her as well, but she’d set those high school swamp rats in their place. Now her brain malfunctioned. He rattled her with just that sexy smile. She dropped the bandages as she cleared the table. With a sigh, she knelt down to pick things up.
Turning away from him, she felt his gaze go down her back, almost like a physical caress. She didn’t know how, but she knew that if she’d turned around at the right moment, she would have seen it for herself. The man apparently thought he was a gift to women. Hmmph.
Joie busied herself setting the table for lunch as Kay and Malcolm talked.
“Ms. Fuqua,” Slade started, only to be interrupted.
“Don’t call me Ms, son. I stayed married for nearly thirty-five years before the cancer took my Pierre. I don’t cotton to these new-fangled words.” She emphasized her statement with a thump of her foot on the floor.
Slade nodded. “Mrs. Fuqua, then. You need to carry pepper spray on your key chain in case you’re attacked again. There won’t always be someone near enough to help you. You could’ve been hurt.”
“True, but the good Lord watches over His child, Malcolm. He put you there for me.”
Joie noticed Malcolm didn’t have an answer for her godmother. His eyes narrowed, but the look running across his face seemed more one of dismay than puzzlement. She guessed he might not be as religious as her godmother, so she broke in.
“Tante`, you should listen to Malcolm. I love you, but he’s right, you could have been hurt. Carrying pepper spray won’t betray your faith in God. You even sent some to me when I lived in Atlanta.”
“True, that’s true, cher’. But Atlanta’s a big city and you were hurt there. Not that pepper spray wouldn’t have been a good thing to use on the no good’…”
“Tante`!” Joie stopped her before she could talk about what had been a heartbreaking moment in Atlanta. The less she had to think about Bill and the loss of their baby, the better.
If she’d only known how he’d react, maybe she could have saved herself the hurt. Old pain washed over her, but she dealt with it as she always did. She put it aside as she turned to the man watching them.
“Thank heavens you were there, Malcolm. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to Tante`.’ Joie reached out to take Malcolm’s hand. She squeezed it gently, then met his eyes. The heat there brought a flush to her face. His eyes seemed to glow.
They ate a hastily prepared lunch as they talked more about Kay carrying some form of protection. Joie found herself listening to the sound of Malcolm’s voice without really hearing what he said.
There was an underlying cadence to his words that sounded a bit strange. Almost as though he weighed what he said, tempering his thoughts. Every time she looked at him, he returned the look, his own gaze an unblinking one, reminding her of the wolf last night.